There's a lot of talk in schools and around the Internet about voting the UFT contract agreement down and forcing de Blasio to give teachers a better deal in a second agreement.
say this will show the public that teachers are starting to stand up
for themselves, they're not going to take getting humiliated or beaten
up by the politicians or press anymore.
I have also
heard how teachers voted a contract down in 1995 and got a better deal
the second time around, so voting this contract down will mean a better
I fear that there is some magical thinking going
on among some of the "Vote No!" folks that all we have to do is send a
message to the mayor, our union heads and the public that we want a
better contract by voting this one down and we will, in the end, get
I'm a little concerned that we're expending an awful lot of energy and thought on why the contract should be voted down, how to get it voted down, but not nearly enough on the "What comes after...?" question.
a scene in The Godfather where Clemenza the capo is tutoring Michael
Corleone on what to do after he shoots a crooked cop and gangster who
set up his father, Vito, to be killed.
Michael is told to simply drop
the gun, walk out to a waiting car and go off to Sicily while the rest
of the family "goes to mattresses" and takes the heat.
Michael asks Clemenza how bad things are going to get after he murders the crooked cop and gangster.
says "Pretty goddam bad. But that's all right. These things have got to
happen every once in a while...every five years...ten...helps to get
rid of the bad blood..."
People who are voting "no"
have got to be ready for how goddamn bad things are going to get if and
when the contract is voted down because it is going to get very rough
afterwards and if we're not careful, the aftermath could do more harm to
the cause of teachers than good.
The press will be
brutal ("Greedy teachers vote down
18% contract, want more!!!") and de Blasio is going to be pissed that his
contract and early first term accomplishment got voted down (and,
perhaps, be less
friendly toward teachers as a consequence.)
We had better be ready for this.
take the press first - you know the coverage is going to be brutal if
the contract is voted down. The Murdoch outlets are going to hammer
teachers as greedy scum, the Daily News won't be far behind and Marcia
Kramer and others will have plenty of pieces on the airwaves blasting
The UFT leadership isn't the best at
countering negative press coverage even when it's in their interest to
do so - you can bet they're not going to do it if the contract they
negotiated is voted down and teachers are getting hammered by the media
So, what is the strategy post-vote for teachers
to get their message out to the public about why we voted the contract
down when the corporate-owned press is spewing out a "Greedy Teachers!"
meme day and night to the public and the UFT leadership is doing nothing
to counter it?
Do we think we can counter that "Greedy
Teachers!" meme from the corporate press on our social media sites with
tweets, Facebook posts and blog pieces?
Do we think we can counter
that "Greedy Teachers!" meme by giving press conferences that are
sparsely attended by media people and given little press coverage except for a
Schoolbook post at WNYC and a mention on Gotham Charter Schools?
Chicago, CTU was able to garner a lot of public support for their
strike because they had an ongoing relationship with parents that they
had built over time.
Also, the Chicago teachers were
striking over issues that parents and students were affected by - class
size, school closures, etc.
Here in NYC, the UFT has purposely run itself as a top-down union and there has been little outreach to parents and the public.
is true that MORE is a little better at this than the leadership, but
even there I wouldn't say there is a relationship with the public and
parents where we can say a substantial portion of them will give us the
benefit of the doubt in the face of mass smearing from the corporate
press if and when we vote the contract down.
point is, how do we counter the firestorm we will have in the media
after the contract is voted down? What's the plan to get our points out
to the public in the face of a hostile media and hostile UFT leadership?
Next point is, what happens to our relationship with de Blasio?
Currently we have a mayor who is mostly friendly and in sync with teachers - for the first time in a long time.
could have had either Christine Quinn or Anthony Weiner at City Hall
and I can tell you that both of those candidates planned few changes to
the public school system from the Bloomberg Years.
De Blasio, for all his faults, is planning changes that I think will make the system better for students and educators.
Two things happen for de Blasio when we vote the contract down:
we weaken de Blasio politically, as his "signature" first labor deal that he is
basing his whole budget on goes up in smoke and he's going to
get lambasted in the press over that (he's
already taking hits over the budget and Comptroller Stringer's forcing
him to make an accounting change relating to retiring teachers.)
Second, we piss de Blasio off and may discover later on he is not so friendly to teachers anymore.
The first point is an important one - as I say, for all his faults, de Blasio is looking like he is going to be a good mayor for schools, students, and teachers.
It is in our long-term interests to help him politically so that he stays in office for a while.
know that the corporate deform folks are mobilizing against him - if
that wasn't obvious in the Eva/de Blasio charter war, I don't know what
was - and we know that they are going to look to take him out in 2017
and put a pro-charter, pro-reform mayor in his place. Eva Moskowitz
herself has suggested she might run in the future.
do political damage to de Blasio when we vote this contract down and we
have to figure out a way to mitigate that damage as much as possible
because it is in our political interest to do so.
second point is important too - de Blasio is not going to be too happy
with us if we vote this down and he may decide if we are going to hurt
him politically, there is less reason for him to help us going forward. I
doubt he turns into Quinn or Weiner (both of whom I believe would
have ultimately turned out hostile toward teachers - not as hostile as Bloomberg,
but not as friendly as de Blasio either), but I bet he gets colder toward us in the future.
While I am in no way suggesting we should take a bad contract so
we can prop de Blasio up politically or keep him happy with us, I am
saying that we had better think about the long-term political
consequences if we vote the contract agreement down and have a plan to deal with them
How do we handle our relationship with de
Blasio afterward so that it is still productive and not fraught with
hostility and animosity? How do we help him politically so that he is
not unduly weakened by having his "signature" labor contract and
early-first term accomplishment sent back to him with "No thanks!" on
it? How do we ensure that we keep a mayor friendly to public education in
City Hall for more than one term and not find ourselves staring at Mayor
Moskowitz (or, more likely, some Moskowitz-friendly mayor) in four
I don't have answers to these questions, but I
want to raise them because I am not hearing much from the contract
opposition that makes me think people are thinking these points through -
and they are important ones.
Teachers are unhappy with the contract for a whole host of very good reasons.
Teachers want to send a message to Mulgrew, the political and
economic elites and the public that they're mad as hell and don't want
to take it anymore.
I get that and I feel it myself.
Alas, I'm not sure those messages are going to get across without planning and organizing in advance to get them across.
It's not enough to just say "Vote no!" and expect things will work out fine.
If the contract gets
voted down, things get very complicated very quickly.
It's hard to predict how they turn out but I think there's a good chance that voting the contract down could boomerang on teachers if we are not careful how we handle the "What Comes After...?" question.
From what I see right now, we're not being careful at all
about the "What Comes After...?" but just focusing on the fight to get the contract voted down and then engaging in some magical thinking
that it just will work out better because it has to, because it did in 1995.
The truth is, it doesn't "have" to work out better - we have to MAKE IT work out better by making sure we can get our message out to the public
over the shrillness of the corporate media, making sure we let de
Blasio know it's nothing personal, we still want to work together, making sure that we don't do permanent political damage to a mayor who is friendly to traditional public schools and making sure we can counter the rhetoric from the fiscal watchdog concern trolls
that the city can't "afford" a better contract for teachers so voting the contract down doesn't get us just another version of the same contract we have now.
Like I said earlier, I don't have the answers for how to handle these problems, but I know we ought to start turning our attention to them so we're ready to handle what comes after.